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Three Things to Know: It’s just one game, but new-look Cavaliers impress

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) New-look Cavaliers impress, blow-out Celtics in first game.
Things looked different — Cleveland actually tried on defense, for one. George Hill was solid defending pick-and-rolls creating turnovers with his length, plus made the extra rotation — and when he did so did J.R. Smith. And LeBron James. The Cavaliers blitzed Kyrie Irving at times, but what was impressive is the guys rotating behind that blitz. All-season long that had been lacking in Cleveland and it led them to have the second-worst defense in the NBA, but on Sunday afternoon in Boston the effort was there.

Combine that with a near triple-double from LeBron James, and 17 from Jordan Clarkson, and you got a Cleveland rout of Boston in the first game for the new-look Cavaliers.

Here is the obligatory “don’t read too much into one game” disclaimer. I want to see what Cleveland looks like after some practices during the All-Star break, and a couple of weeks of games together — and when teams get some scouting reports on them and game plan a little.

But for one game, the Cavaliers where impressive. And it wasn’t just the defense. The Cavaliers dropped 64 points in the first half on the best defense in the NBA this season, then put the game away with an 11-0 fourth-quarter run. It was such an easy win LeBron sat the fourth quarter, a rarity this season. Hill had 12 points and ran the pick-and-roll with LeBron like a veteran (better than LeBron and Isaiah Thomas ever did), Nance brought energy, and the entire thing fit.

Here’s the thing that most should worry the rest of the East — LeBron looked like he was having fun again. He was energized. And an energized and smiling LeBron is a force of nature.

2) Paul Pierce gets his jersey retired by Celtics. After that game — one a lot of Boston fans would have left early had it not been for this — Paul Pierce’s number 34 jersey was retired by the Celtics. Deservedly so. He is the greatest Celtics since the Bird era, and he helped bring another banner to Boston. Check out the highlights here (and if you want to see the entire hour ceremony, follow this link).

3) Utah routs Trail Blazers for a ninth straight win, Utah back in the playoff mix. Rudy Gobert is back and the Jazz defense is stifling, Ricky Rubio has found his comfort level in Quin Snyder’s offense (although he was out Sunday), Donovan Mitchell looks like the Rookie of the Year, and the Utah Jazz are back.

Sunday that was because of Joe Ingles, who dropped a career-high 24 points, then the rookie Mitchell knocking down his final three shots and a few free throws to end the game and cap off a 27-point night. The Jazz opened the second half on a 22-5 run and won the third 38-19 to give them a lead that Damian Lillard (39 points) could not make up. For Utah, it was a good sign that just-acquired Jae Crowder looked comfortable scoring 15 points and going 3-of-7 from three (he had started to find his shot near the end in Cleveland).

This was a huge win in the standings.

Written off a few weeks back, Utah went into Portland Sunday and beat the Trail Blazers handily 115-96. The win improves the Jazz to 28-28 and has them just 1.5 points out of the playoffs in the West — there are now only 2.5 games separating six-seed Portland and 10-seed Utah. The bottom of the West is going to be the race to watch — fivethirtyeight.com has Utah with an 89 percent chance of climbing into and making the playoffs (with the Nuggets and Trail Blazers grabbing the other two spots at 64 percent, which would leave the Clippers and Pelicans on the outside looking in).

Kevin Durant confirms “My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all.”

Nets star Kevin Durant
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The betting odds on the seven seed Brooklyn Nets to win the NBA title dropped to 60-1, even with the Thunder and better than the Trail Blazers and others, all because some fans thought maybe Kevin Durant would return. That despite report after report that it was not happening.

Now Durant himself has shot down the idea, speaking to Mark Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN.

“It’s just best for me to wait,” Durant said. “I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month. It gives me more time to get ready for next season and the rest of my career.

“My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all. We decided last summer when it first happened that I was just going to wait until the following season. I had no plans of playing at all this season.”

His Nets teammate Kyrie Irving will not play in Orlando, either. Irving had shoulder surgery back in March and is still recovering from that.

Durant added in the interview he has fully recovered from COVID-19 after testing positive for the coronavirus back in March not long after the season was shut down.

Next season the Nets will enter as one of the favorites in the East. For the restart this season, however, they will be the seven seed in the East with a tough first-round matchup against Toronto, or maybe Boston.

 

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum commends Jody Allen for no vote

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum
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The Trail Blazers, owned by Jody Allen, cast the lone dissenting vote on the NBA’s plan to resume with 22 teams.

Why?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Portland guard CJ McCollum:

Damian Lillard expressed his concern: He wanted the Trail Blazers to have a real chance at making the playoffs. They got that.

Wojnarowski mentioned how lottery odds are calculated – relevant only if Portland misses the postseason and something current players tend not to dwell on.

This feels incongruous.

Was safety a concern? The risk of coronavirus is higher with 22 teams than 20. However, it’s higher with 20 teams than 16.

The Trail Blazers are 17th in the league. And nobody publicly mentioned health. Having just 20 teams – especially with a group stage – would’ve given Portland an easier path into the top 16. (It’s unclear how many teams would’ve made the playoffs with a group stage).

NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted everyone to unite behind this plan. Even other owners who disagreed with the plan voted for it. But with the Trail Blazers’ no vote, Allen engendered greater support from her players. If nothing else, that has value.

Report: NBA eying in mid-July 2021 NBA Finals in advance of Olympics

Tokyo Olympics
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The NBA plans to rush through the 2020 offseason and begin the 2020-21 season Dec. 1… just to rush through the 2020-21 season.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

The NBA Finals normally begin 226 days after the regular-season opener with an 18-day window to play the best-of-seven series. So, based on a typical timeline, a Dec. 1 opener would mean the Finals would be held July 15 – Aug. 1., 2021.

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to begin July 23, 2021.

So, something must give.

It probably won’t be regular-season games. As much as the NBA would like its players to get exposure in the Olympics, owners will be extremely reluctant to surrender direct revenue. Likewise, the many NBA players not headed to the Olympics should share similar financial concerns.

More likely, the league will reduce the number of rest days during the 2020-21 season. That seems risky given the drastic disruptions already affecting conditioning entering the season.

It’s also possible players whose NBA teams advance deep enough in the playoffs just won’t be able to play in the Olympics (or Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, which are scheduled for June and July 2021).

Like with many things affected by coronavirus, there are no good answers – just hard decisions on what to compromise.

Details leak on life inside Orlando bubble: Daily testing, 1,600 people, 2K crowd noise at games

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Players do not report to the Walt Dinsey World campus in Orlando for another month to restart the NBA season — and it will be weeks after that before games start on July 31 — but we’re beginning to learn more about life inside that bubble.

A bubble the players from a couple of teams could be in for more than three months.

On a Friday conference call, representatives of the National Basketball Players Association backed the 22-team return-to-play format.  Out of that call, we learned some more details about what life will be like in the bubble, courtesy Shams Charania of The Athletic. Among his notes:

– 1,600 maximum people on campus
– Coronavirus testing every day; minimum seven days of quarantine for a player who tests positive
– There could be crowd noise via NBA 2K video game sounds, but the NBA and NBPA is still discussing creative opportunities

That 1,600 people in the bubble/campus includes players and staffs from teams (about 770 people) plus referees, league personnel, broadcasters, and more. It fills up quickly, which is why family members — likely just three per player — will not be allowed until after at least the second round of the playoffs when a number of teams have cleared out (an issue for players).

Players were asked once in the bubble not to leave, and the same applied to their families when they arrive. This is not a summer vacation at Disney World. While there are no armed guards or security to keep players and staff on the campus, the goal was to create a safe environment and people heading out into greater Orlando, for whatever reason, sets that goal back.

The daily testing will be done by the NBPA and will involve mouth or light nasal swabs, not the invasive ones. Also, there will be no antibody testing, and no blood tests.

Teams will get a three-hour practice window during training camp and on off-days, which will include time in the provided wight room. After that, the equipment will be sanitized before the next team uses the courts.

Crowd noise — as seen on the Bundesliga soccer broadcasts from Germany seen here in the USA — is controversial. While the league is talking to the makers of the NBA 2K video game about piped-in crowd noise, that is definitely a topic still up for discussion.

As Keith Smith discussed on the ProBasketballTalk Podcast this week, games in Orlando are expected to be played sort of like at Summer League, with some starting at noon (or early afternoon) and alternating on courts all day. East Coast teams will likely have the earlier slots while there could be some 10 p.m. Eastern start times for a couple of West Coast teams (where it would still be just 7 p.m.).

We previously knew players would be allowed to golf and eat at outdoor restaurants at the Disney resort, so long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

For everything we know about life in the bubble, there are far more questions left unanswered. In the next month we will learn a lot more.